The Cost of Choice

“Happy birthday, my sweet Angel,” her mother said smiling, handing Emily a few coins and a cup of black tea.

The summer of 1882 was the warmest season the twelve-year-old felt, yet. She sipped her tea beside her mother in the garden beside their living quarters at the Boyd’s Manchester summer home.

Emily gazed across the lawn to the patio where Dubby and his father sat, playing cards. Seeing that paternal bond wasn’t the first time the little girl thought of her own father. But she couldn’t restrain her curiosity any longer.

“Mum?”

“Yes, love?” her mother asked.

“Why didn’t daddy come to England with us?”

Avery paused mid-sip and sighed. She knew this day would come, but she wished it wouldn’t come so soon.

She glanced at the little inquirer, sitting tall in her chair with her chin tilted to the side like an inquisitive puppy.

“Sometimes, love,” Avery said slowly, choosing her words cautiously. “Mummies and daddies come from very different worlds. And sometimes those worlds don’t mesh.”

The mother recalled long days and nights, nursing Emily in the basement of the Donoghue mansion. If she even thought about taking the baby upstairs, she would risk everything. She would risk someone suspecting that the child’s distinct brown eyes mirrored those of Avery’s master.

“So you and daddy didn’t get along?” Emily asked, pulling Avery away from the memory. The question, however, yanked the mother back into another recollection.

She pondered the first time his lips ever pressed against hers so softly and so gently. She remembered the warmth between her legs and the longing to be in his skin, to feel every crevice of his thin, unyielding body wrap around her and consume her.

Colin had quietly crossed the barrier into her quarters as to not wake his mother sleeping in her bedroom on the floor above.

“No, dear,” Avery replied, snapping out of the scrumptious memory and returning to her daughter’s question. “We loved each other deeply. We loved each other very much.”

Avery took a deep breath and decided to protect her daughter from a broken promise.

The birds continued to chirp in the sunlight on that afternoon as Avery allowed her memory to drift back to those delicious nights when   he crept into her quarters and laid with her in the candlelight.

“I promise to love her,” he whispered sweetly in Avery’s ear. “I will make sure she is treated like a princess and has the life she always wanted.”

*

Emily’s birthdays seemed to be the mark of external change. On her seventeenth birthday, her mother fell ill and feverish.

She laid in bed, unable able to swallow broth or medicine. She grew thin, as if her own skin sucked into her bones. Avery felt drained from coughing up blood into her handkerchief and required Emily to take over caring for the Boyds.

“My love,” her mother whispered to her between coughs. “You are meant for greatness.”

Emily Donoghue, with long, braided brunette hair secured into a bonnet, gazed into her mother’s pale and perspired face.

“Shhh, rest now,” Emily cooed, pulling the bed covers over her mother’s shoulders. “You need to keep your strength.”

“Listen to me,” her mother argued, shaking her head. “I never told you the truth about your father.”

The mere mention of him was a shock to Emily’s bones. Her mother refused to speak more of him ever since that summer in Manchester.

“He was a good man,” Avery continued. “He wanted to take care of you. To give you a good life in Ireland.”

Her daughter’s brown eyes grew wide at the thought of living with him there. She could hardly picture the land they sailed away from when she was a wee Lass, swallowed up on that crowded, odorous vessel.

Emily recalled the salty scent of the green island that was lined with cobblestone roads and hills speckled with sheep.

She saw the dark skies they sailed beneath. The skies were even gloomier when they arrived on England’s soil.

Avery brought her back to the present, uttering softly and assuredly, “The choice is yours, Emily.”

The daughter watched as the light left her mother’s emerald eyes, and fell back into eternal stillness.

*

Emily could hardly rest peacefully that night of her mother’s burial. She couldn’t help but to feel the tugging pull of remorse for the loss of her mother and the news of her father.

She imagined that if she stayed in London, she’d die just like her mother: sick, too young, beneath a blank headstone.

Emily tried to repress the thought. When she finally stopped picturing her own death, she imagined, for the first time in her life, a future with her father. In the land she was born in.

Just the idea of sailing back on a ship away from the shackles of duty excited her.

She tossed and turned, her mind at war.

Duty, Em. Duty. You can’t just leave.

The sun peeked through her dusty window, signaling the time to rise and begin another day.

*

Emily carried on, folding sheets and preparing breakfast for Dubby. She remembered to grab his medicine this time on her way upstairs to his parlor, where he usually sits in the morning.

He lingered in the floral armchair, contemplating the reason why his third mistress left him in a fit of urgency.

Questions and concerns reeled through his mind for a moment… just a moment. Then it turned to his stomach which growled ferociously.

“Mr. Boyd?” Emily inquired from the doorway. The back of the chair faced her, but she could smell the thick scent of tobacco. “It’s time for your medication, sir.”

Dubbinger Chester Thomas Boyd III yawned loudly and dubiously, holding his long pipe before him, avoiding Emily’s calling.

“Mr. Boyd, are you in here?” called the young, fair-skinned woman dressed in her heavy, burgundy dress that she sewed together herself. She approached his side with a glass of water and the three red pills in her palm.

“Unfortunately, I am here,” replied the solemn bachelor. “I won’t be taking that with water today,” he said matter of factually. “Bring me the finest scotch we have – on the rocks.”

Dubby took a puff of his pipe, casting swirls of smoke toward the window overlooking their empty curb where his mistress had stolen their only horse and carriage.

Emily realized he was commanding her to walk three miles to the nearest liquor store.

“Scotch?” she asked. “I don’t believe we have any left in your father’s cabinet, sir.”

The young man with a curled mustache, dressed in a velvet robe, reached for his wallet inside his pocket. He elicited all of the pounds he had and handed them gingerly to her.

“Then buy me some,” he ordered in a low growl that sent shivers down her spine.

Emily bowed and took the money obediently. “Yes, sir.”

She slid the few pieces of bills inside her white apron along with the three red pills, and quietly exited the parlor, preparing for the long trek ahead.

*

Stepping onto the wet, muddy street, Emily clasped the money in her apron pocket. She wondered why she didn’t follow behind Madame Colette in an attempt to free herself from Mr. Boyd’s household.

She strolled down the dark, bustling avenue toward the Old Bell Tavern and counted the bills he had given her.

The young woman folded the bills over in her palm, weighing out the cost of whiskey in comparison to the cost of time she would be cleaning the mess he would make.

Emily considered another option.

But what about Ireland? My father?

The funds would be enough for one passenger, plus food and anything else she needed to travel and survive for one month. Emily Donoghue was ready to meet her family and cross the sea to her destiny.

She redirected her route towards the shipyard.

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